Orcas don’t qualify for constitutional protections

Killer whales are not people, so they cannot benefit from full protections provided to humans under the U.S. Constitution.

That was essence of a ruling handed down yesterday by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller. The case was brought in the name of five captive orcas by a group that includes People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

I had not planned to write about this case, because the outcome seemed rather obvious. But I must take note of how seriously Miller handled this constitutional claim. In a seven-page ruling, he reviewed the history of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, and found that it applies only to humans. The following is the conclusion of the decision, the full text of which can be downloaded by clicking here:

“Even though Plaintiffs lack standing to bring a Thirteenth Amendment claim, that is not to say that animals have no legal rights; as there are many state and federal statutes affording redress to Plaintiffs, including, in some instances, criminal statutes that ‘punish those who violate statutory duties that protect animals.’ … While the goal of Next Friends in seeking to protect the welfare of orcas is laudable, the Thirteenth Amendment affords no relief to Plaintiffs.”

SeaWorld, which holds the five orcas, issued a statement noting that the judge took little time to issue his ruling, which “provides reassurance of the sanctity of the 13th Amendment and the absurdity of PETA’s baseless lawsuit,” according to the statement quoted by Huffington Post reporter Joanna Zelman.

A statement issued today by PETA shows no disappointment in the outcome of the case:

“There is no question that SeaWorld enslaves animals, even though the judge in this case didn’t see the 13th Amendment as the remedy to that. Women, children, and racial and ethnic minorities were once denied fundamental constitutional rights that are now self-evident, and that day will certainly come for the orcas and all the other animals enslaved for human amusement.

“This historic first case for the orcas’ right to be free under the 13th Amendment is one more step toward the inevitable day when all animals will be free from enslavement for human entertainment. Judge Miller’s opinion does not change the fact that the orcas who once lived naturally, wild and free, are today kept as slaves by SeaWorld. PETA will continue to pursue every available avenue to fight for these animals.”

One thought on “Orcas don’t qualify for constitutional protections

  1. Since the court already recognizes corporations as persons (google “corporate personhood”), one solution is to make orcas members of corporations under RCW 24.03.005(6a), in which “Member” means an individual or entity having membership rights in a corporation in accordance with the provisions of its articles of incorporation or bylaws. An entity is defined as something that exists by itself, such as an orca whale. Then apply the 5th Amendment: “No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . .”

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